Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Review - The Emperor Protects

The third game from developer Owlcat Games, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader marks a major milestone for the WH40k franchise – with it being the first proper computer role-playing game in that setting. Like Owlcat’s previous two titles, Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, Rogue Trader does a lot of things really well, while unfortunately still being beholden to many of the same design ideas that – while interesting on paper – never really pan out in practice.

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In WH40k: RT, you take on the role of a Rogue Trader – a hereditary title that has been bestowed to your dynasty by the Emperor of Mankind and it gives you access to special rights that practically no one else in the Imperium of Man has. This is ideal from a gameplay and role-playing perspective, as it makes your character someone who has authority, resources, and power. Everything you would want from an RPG protagonist.

After a brief prologue in which your predecessor is mysteriously murdered, you take on the mantle of Rogue Trader and everything that entails. This includes a gigantic void ship with thousands of crewmembers, a vast trade empire, and a new goal – to consolidate your position and find out who’s behind a series of escalating attacks on your holdings.

Naturally, you’re going to be aided in this task by an eclectic team that features some of the most well-known WH40k factions, such as a Sister of Battle, Tech Priest, Inquisitor, Navigator, Space Marine, and several more notable archetypes. All of them come with their own unique outlooks on the state of the Galaxy, personal quests, and a couple of them are even romanceable.

For the Emperor!

RT features everything we’ve come to expect from Owlcat – a deep character-building system, tactical combat, plenty of worthwhile role-playing decisions to make in every quest, and a branching narrative that reacts to your choices. In many ways, it is their most ambitious game to date. It’s a shame, then, that it is weighed down by some of the same concepts they insist on putting into all of their titles. This comes in the form of several superfluous and undercooked game systems that always feel like more of a chore than they are satisfying to play through. In Kingmaker, this was Kingdom Management. In Wrath of the Righteous, it was Heroes of Might and Magic-style unit warfare. And in Rogue Trader, it’s Voidship combat.

Again, the idea here is sound. After all, spaceship battles are a big part of WH40k. But the way it works in-game leaves a lot to be desired. Spaceship combat is modeled after real-world naval battles, which means that you are constantly moving your vessel and trying to flank and outmaneuver your opponents so that you can put yourself in a position where you can hit their ship, while avoiding damage to yours. The problem is that this is soul-numbingly boring. Every battle is drawn out, with ship after ship taking its sweet time flying up to you, firing upon your craft, and then you having to chase after it. If there was an option to speed up their animations, this would be somewhat bearable, and odds are good that this QoL feature is going to be added to the game in some future update (as well as the option to skip this type of combat altogether), but in its current form, it is extremely unengaging.

Burn the Heretic. Kill the Mutant. Purge the Unclean.

Speaking of regular combat, it is likewise turn-based. As your characters are much more powerful than the majority of the usual malnourished chaos cultists and other such low-level threats you’ll be going up against, the typical combat encounter consists of you mowing down dozens of mooks with your superior abilities. And, every once in a while, a more elite enemy or boss is going to be placed in there to spice things up, but even these won’t pose too much of a threat if you know what you’re doing.

Overall, the combat, much like character-building, is engaging enough, though the sheer number of options and things you need to consider can feel overwhelming. Dozens upon dozens of available feats and stats such as Wounds, Resolve, and Momentum are great if you like to immerse yourselves in a beefy ruleset that rewards planning and in-depth knowledge of all of these rules and mechanics. On the other hand, if you prefer more casual RPGs, then Rogue Trader might not be the right game for you.

One of the most interesting things about Rogue Trader is the way that it handles Psyker powers (which are, for all intents and purposes, magic). When Psykers use their abilities, they risk drawing the intentions of various malevolent Chaos entities. This is reflected in a counter at the top of the screen. Every minor and major power that you use is going to bring that counter up, and if it fills all the way – additional enemies can spawn in. Since Psyker powers are some of the most powerful abilities that you have access to and you have to use them, this is another gameplay element that you need to keep track of.

Blessed is the Mind Too Small For Doubt

Rogue Trader doesn’t feature a traditional D&D alignment system, but what it does have is arguably much more compelling. You can choose between three distinct morality systems – Dogmatic, Iconoclast, and Heretical. As its name suggests, Dogmatic is the official dogma of the Imperium of Man. On the whole, the Imperium is a xenophobic and warmongering society where everything is black and white, so selecting these options will typically see you adopt a “Cleanse them all with holy fire!” approach.

Iconoclast is a more hopeful and humane philosophy, one which emphasizes the importance of life and personal freedom. In other words – a naive goody-two-shoes, which can often feel at odds with the casual cruelty and over-the-top grimdarkness of Warhammer 40,000. And finally, Heretical. Choose this if you crave power from the Dark Gods and want to indiscriminately destroy every semblance of order and goodness. As you make more and more choices that push you towards a specific path, you will soon get locked out of progressing in the other two options.

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, There is Only War… and Trade, Apparently

As a Rogue Trader, you will also engage in trade all over the Koronus Expanse – the dangerous and warp-infested corner of the Galaxy where the game takes place. This includes setting up trade agreements, negotiating better terms, exploring star systems, scanning for and extracting resources from planets, and taking care of the colonies under your control. Perhaps most importantly for WH40k fans, the game does an excellent job of capturing the darkly humorous and often tragic atmosphere of the setting – something that goes a long way toward making up for its lack of AAA production values.

While Rogue Trader is the least buggy Owlcat game so far, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that can hamper your gameplay experience. These include the usual culprits – turn orders getting stuck, visual glitches, missing item and ability descriptions, and so on. While these are relatively rare in the first couple of chapters, the later parts are exponentially more bug-ridden. Luckily, unlike many major game developers who leave their games to languish unfixed (or to get sorted by modders) after a patch or two, we can expect all of these to get patched up by Owlcat in the following months.

Bottom line – if you have enjoyed previous Owlcat works, then odds are good that you’re going to like Rogue Trader as well. The game is obviously a work of passion for the team, and while it is by no means perfect, you can get a lot of enjoyment from it if you are a fan of classic isometric role-playing games and Warhammer 40,000 in particular.



  • An immersive RPG experience that takes full advantage of the WH40k setting.
  • Plenty of quests, different ways to solve them, and important choices to make.
  • Really nails the WH40k vibe and esthetic.


  • Combat – especially space combat – can be excruciatingly slow.
  • Complicated character-building system that can be hard to get into.
  • Bugs.
Review platform: PC
Developed by: Owlcat Games
Published by: Owlcat Games
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Author Suma profile picture
A lifelong gamer, Vladimir was always interested in gaming and what makes games tick. Before long, he found himself writing about games as well as playing them. No stranger to game guides which have often helped him make just the right decision in a particularly difficult quest, he’s very happy to be able to help his fellow gamers and give a little back to his favorite pastime.